[K]enny Basumatary started dreaming of making his own films since he was in Std. VI. A fan of martial arts films, his dream materialized in his ultra low budget film “Local Kung Fu”,. The film will premiere this Saturday at the Osian’s Cinefan Film Festival in New Delhi.
What made you think of creating Local Kung Fu (LKF)? What’s the genesis?
I’ve wanted to work in films since around class VI. After about two-three years of acting and writing in Mumbai, I realized that no one was going to just give me a bunch of money to go and make a film – not that I went around asking – and my dad didn’t have crores of rupees stashed away in a secret chamber in his house. Around this time, I also saw quite a few ultra low budget films that went on to win a lot of acclaim – films like Once, In Search of a Midnight Kiss, Mirageman, Clerks, El Mariachi, etc. These films led me to believe that making a feature of my own, on a next-to-zero budget, wasn’t really that much of an impossibility. Hence, I started looking out for ways to make it happen.
But why Kung Fu?
We all love good action films, don’t we? The funny thing is we have so many talented martial artists, especially in the North-East, but we don’t have a single proper martial arts film. I also had an extra advantage here, in that my uncle had been a martial arts instructor for two decades, and there was a huge pool of current and former students we could choose from to make our film. A couple of them are among my best friends, and we’d made a few short fighting videos together, a couple of which have done quite well on YouTube, so we decided that we were ready to take the plunge and make a full-length martial arts comedy.
I’ll break it down for you:
44,000 – Canon 550D
11,000 – 55-250mm lens
5,000 – Rode VideoMic
7,000 – Memory card, battery, filters etc
2,000 – Fighting equipment
13,000 – Embarassingly small token payments for the actors
The rest – About 200 plates of momos, noodles, fried rice, 150 tekeli pithas, coffee etc.
The actors have done a good job…
Yes, I’m really lucky to be born into a talented circle of friends and family. Apart from the people I’d already worked with, I auditioned everybody – didn’t want amateurish acting to bring the level of the film down.
The film was shot in a DSLR Camera? Any particular reason for the choice?
I did a lot of research on which camera would suit our purposes best. Then a couple of friends advised me to buy the Canon 550D, and one of them went on to buy it himself. I tried it out and obviously loved it, so I got one for myself. Only later did I come to know of the advantages of a DSLR. I didn’t know, then, that HD footage could be blown up for the big screen.
In spite of the violence, there was never the slightest hint of gore or bloodshed – was that a conscious choice?
Yes, for two reasons. One, I didn’t want our fights to be the scary, bloody, violent kind, because I wanted it to be a family friendly-film, Jackie Chan / Stephen Chow style. I wanted the fights to be entertaining and fun. And secondly, taking care of the continuity of the blood and black eyes would’ve been a big headache.
What were the challenges during making the film?
In the initial stages, the challenges were mostly technical, cinematography related. There were some things I didn’t know how to deal with, like highlights burnout on sunny days. I asked the DoP (Director of Photography) of JayHind.tv, on which I act, and also did a lot of reading on the net. So we solved the issue by using an ND (Neutral Density) filter for normal scenes and high shutter speeds for action scenes.
I really don’t remember any major challenges we had. Everyone was nice and co-operative; all I had to do was be patient. The only tricky thing was scheduling – my cousins had school and college and tuition, friends and uncles had jobs and families to take care of – so we had to work within all of this and get people together whenever they were free.
How was the experience of directing – any surprises, any learnings?
Surprises…probably not too many, since I already knew most of the people I worked with – their temperaments, their endurance. But I did get to learn quite a lot. The importance of story-boarding to get work done efficiently, learning that most non-professional actors can only go a certain number of takes before starting to fade, which lens to use when, the need to keep your script short and tight, the importance of pace and energy in the individual moments of a scene as it’s being shot – I could go on and on.
How was it directing this motley crowd of youngsters? And how was it shooting in Guwahati?
It was fun. Half of them were my cousins and the other half my friends or theirs, so we had quite a blast. If any of them goofed up, we could easily laugh about it, relax and carry on – no worries of wasting film or holding up a 40-man crew. We always rehearsed thoroughly, until I got exactly the performance I wanted, or as close to it as possible. And the fights we really, really practiced a lot. Even one accidental blow can lead to serious injury, so we were very careful about not hurting each other. I’m proud of the fact that apart from two non-serious kicks that connected with my neck and thigh, no one got injured during the fights.
Shooting in Guwahati was fun. The DSLR was a huge advantage, in that nobody in the general public would think that something serious was going on with such a small camera. We could unobtrusively shoot scenes in public places, most of which we were already regular visitors to. For the fights, we chose secluded locations – a couple of hilltops, a school ground, a quiet lane – so that we wouldn’t have too many people standing around.
After pretty much every shooting day, we’d go and have momos near Guwahati Commerce College.
Who (or what) have been your influences in film making?
That’s a really long list. But for Local Kung Fu, the prime influences have obviously been Jackie Chan and Stephen Chow, minus their huge budgets and stunts, as well as Isaac Florentine – whom very few people have heard about but is a much better action director than many Hollywood A-listers. Watch his Undisputed III and II, starring Scott Adkins, the best martial arts star in the world currently. And also Mirageman, starring Marko Zaror, the Latin Dragon.
After Cinefan, what are your further plans about LKF?
Let’s hope we get into a few more festivals, then release it in theatres.
What next – what’s your next project?
I have 3-4 options. One is to make the film of my novel ‘Chocolate_Guitar_Momos’. Two, a Spinal Tap kind of rock comedy. Three, a semi-biopic of four tribal sisters in rural Assam. Four, a couple of martial arts scripts, including ‘Ek Plate Kung Fu’, which came in the top 6 at the Sankalan script lab, and another one which I need to finish first.
What would you say to all the aspiring film makers out there?
“Soch lo, beta!” On a serious note, I don’t really know if I’m qualified to dispense words of wisdom. There’s no set path to becoming a filmmaker. Everyone needs to make their own road.
[Local Kung Fu, Kenny Basumatary's debut feature, is being screened at Ocian's CineFan Film Festival on July 28, at Siri Fort Auditorium]